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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Radiation is the traditional treatment for Hodgkin disease that is localized to one group of lymph nodes. For more advanced stages of Hodgkin disease, combination chemotherapy with 3 or 4 different drugs is used.

Treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma depends on the grade of lymphoma (low, or high), the stage of the disease, and the age and health of the patient.

  • Low-grade (slow-growing) lymphomas, the ones that occur more often in older people, may not require immediate treatment if there are no symptoms. Early, aggressive therapy does not improve survival for most low-grade lymphomas.

  • Low-grade lymphoma that is advancing or causing symptoms may be treated in a variety of ways. The choice of therapy depends on the age of the person and whether there are other significant medical problems. Low dose chemotherapy won't cure the lymphoma but may help to keep decrease the number of cancer cells. More aggressive therapy would include high dose chemotherapy, sometimes with immunotherapy using a biologic agent. Also your doctors might consider a bone marrow transplant.

  • For higher-grade lymphomas, the main treatment is usually high dose chemotherapy often combined with immunotherapy, with or without radiation. Your doctor may recommend a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant.

In a bone marrow transplant, the patient's bone marrow cells are killed and then cancer-free bone marrow cells are injected. Stem cells are immature cells that grow into blood cells. In a stem cell transplant, the patient's stem cells are removed and treated to kill the cancer before being injected back into the patient.

Immunotherapy taps the body's immune system to kill cancer cells or limit their growth. Monoclonal antibodies are the most commonly used biologic therapy to treat lymphoma. Monoclonal antibodies are very specific proteins that attack certain cells. These antibodies are made in a laboratory.

Monoclonal antibodies are injected into the bloodstream. They may be used alone or to transport drugs, toxins, or radioactive material to cancer cells.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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